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Broiling Over

If you reinterpret “in fetal position” as “in feeble position” or use “hunger pains” rather than “hunger pangs,” you’ve got yourself an eggcorn. The word eggcorn itself is an eggcorn (a reshaping of a word—in this case, acorn—based on a new and plausible understanding of its parts and/or meaning). Geoff Pullum picked up on Mark Liberman’s Language Log post on eggcorns to coin the term as a way to refer to this phenomenon; and it has found its way into several dictionaries with this meaning.

Ther…

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Garage Sociolinguistics

Read the above title aloud before you continue. I have a real problem about pronouncing it. Let me explain. In the fall I was quite unexpectedly forced to move house. my_garage_3 My new home has not only an off-street parking spot but also a standalone structure (pictured at left) intended for storing an automobile (but actually occupied by garden tools, boxes, unused furniture–you know how it goes). Uttering the name for this outbuilding plunges me into a sociolinguistic minefield.

The suffix -age that te…

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The Campus Culture Industry

PrimantiBros_SkylarYuenI’m sure I’m not the only Lingua Franca reader who received a communication just before the start of the spring term thanking the committee who had worked hard over break on the institutional goal of Strengthening Campus Culture. Those of us whose campus cultures were weak will see them shored up; those whose campus cultures were already strong will see them buttressed for the future.

Only I’m not certain what a campus culture is, exactly. I know: It’s marketing-speak. But we’re talking abou…

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Spelling (Sometimes) Counts

A tough book to spell

A tough book to spell

Among the things I’m bad at are backing into parking spaces, taking a hint, and grasping what people are saying when they mouth words to me. Among the things I’m good at are finding parking spaces, predicting what sports announcers will say, and spelling. The last mastery, in the digital age, is a bit like having lots of odd facts at your beck and call. They’re great skills if you happen to wander into a spelling bee or Quizzo night, but otherwise, they’re fairly vestigial.

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Hashtags Hammer Grammar (or Not)

The hashtag is a major innovation in language. It was invented just a few years ago, to allow quick and easy categorizing of tweets. And then hashtags became an easy way to comment on the topic of a tweet, as in You had one job: A show about a detective with OCD, and that’s how they designed the box for the last season. #wellplayed Often a hashtag is a comment on a comment: I’m done with science #stopcorrectingparties2k14 Im extremely obsessive about everything I love Fall Out Boy so much #Super…

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Not by a Long Chalk

As I have mentioned here before, my hobby is writing and maintaining a blog about British expressions that have become popular in the United States. I know, I know. Listen, it keeps me off the street.

Anyway, not long ago, Alex Beam, a Boston Globe columnist, opened a piece this way:

And here I thought we had the place to ourselves.

Not by a long chalk, it turns out. New census data show that Massachusetts is the fastest-growing state in New England, population wise.

The opening of the second p…

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O Canada! in New Orleans

LouisiCANADA“I’m so New Orleans, when I go out of town people ask me if I’m Canadian.”

A joke, right? No, it seems that, contrary to all expectations, a certain Canadian pronunciation is beginning to emerge in the Big Easy.

I heard about it in a talk by Katie Carmichael of Virginia Tech at the annual gathering of linguists this month in Portland, Ore. She found “when I go out of town people ask me if I’m Canadian” on Facebook, together with this response: “most people don’t come out and say, ‘are you canadi…

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Saving El Gordo

(Credit: We Love Philosophy)

A few years ago, a Spanish psychologist and his team of researchers asked about 700 students to decide whether they would kill one person to save five. It was a version of the classic trolley dilemma: A small train is trundling toward five people on the tracks who will perish in the crash; you see this from your perch on a footbridge and realize you can save them by shoving one of your fellow pedestrians—a fat man—off the bridge, into the train’s path. Do you do it? …

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The Rules for Essay Exams

bluebksAt my university the time has come (indeed, the deadline has come) for the process of grading the final exams from the fall semester. I started working on my stack of examination books speedily, accurately, and efficiently, deriving great satisfaction and enjoyment from the process of reading what my students have written.

Oh, who the hell am I kidding. I didn’t. For several days I hovered near the stack like a nervous swimmer unwilling to enter the water on a cold day even though it would proba…

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To Be or Not to Be Charlie

crowd-holding-je-suis-charlie-sign_450
In English, it forms possibly the shortest subject-verb-predicate sentence: I am X. But we cannot seem to agree on what it means. In my lifetime, the first phrase that rings out is John F. Kennedy’s, on the steps of the Rathaus Schöneberg: Ich bin ein Berliner! The second, echoing now from Paris across the Western hemisphere, is Je suis Charlie Hebdo. These are both rhetorical flourishes, obviously. But they also both nag at our sense of what it means to declare ourselves something—as opposed…